Monday, February 16, 2009

Valdemar 01: The Black Gryphon (Lackey, Mercedes & Dixon, Larry)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1994
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

The first book of the first trilogy in the 26-volume Valdemar series. Only 25 books to go. With this first trilogy, we're seeing how things were 1,000 years before the founding of the nation of Valdemar.

This is turning out to be a difficult book to write a review for; it's not an "action" story so much as "interaction"--lots of dialogue, lots of self-examination on the part of key characters, and lots of relating to one another. Don't get me wrong, people and creatures die, but Lackey doesn't spend a lot of time on that. So it's sort of difficult for me to relate what it's about. I like action. I liked "Without Remorse," with its over-the-top revenge. I suppose we could say that Lackey's style is at the other end of the spectrum from George "Don't worry about the acting, I'll fix it in Post" Luca$, who is all about the action and eye candy and to hell with meaningful relationships and people. He should join up with Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. With his help, they could make a worse film than "Armageddon." Then he could get one of his sucky "Star Wars--New Jedi Order" writers to do the movie tie-in book, and I can write another review. That man keeps me motivated.

We begin with the Black Gryphon himself, Skandranon, on a spying mission in a camp of the evil mage Ma'ar. There's been warning that Ma'ar's men have a new magic weapon, something regular troops can employ, something that could bring defeat to Urtho, the Mage of Silence and his people. The war has been grinding along for a decade, and Ma'ar has inexorably made his way closer and closer to the seat of Urtho's power. We don't see more than the occasional glimpse of the war-in-progress; instead we see its progress in the emotions of the characters. Everyone is tired, worn down, but determined that Ma'ar and his men will pay in blood for each inch of land they take.

The final act of the book sets up the two sequels, but it also sets the stage for the entire remaining series. Urtho's great Tower and the Palace that Ma'ar has conquered are the two pivots upon which the final trilogy will turn.

I highly recommend reading the series in story-chronological order (which is how I'm reviewing it) rather than by published date. You don't really have to, since each of the trilogy sets and singles stands on its own well enough while fitting into the larger story, but it's more satisfying having the little bit of knowledge in the back of your mind and maybe forgetting about it only to "rediscover" it as the characters do 2,000 years later.

For whatever reason, Lackey's style isn't as irritating in this book as it was in the Tregarde stories, but that could easily be the difference in "worlds," given the Tregarde books' "real-world" setting. She does tend to wordiness and some fussiness in word choice, things that don't seem to fit the "voice" of certain characters, but in the more "pure fantasy" setting of the Valdemar books, it could be overlooked as a cultural trait. The story flows well and doesn't seem to drag despite that lack of action--but then, stories are supposed to be about people.

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